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Kentucky Oaks 135 Wednesday Update - Lukas plans to 'Tag Team' Rachel
Follow your favorite contenders for the 135th running of the Kentucky Oaks with Churchill Downs!
BE FAIR / STONE LEGACY / TWEETER – All three D. Wayne Lukas-trained fillies galloped at Churchill Downs on Wednesday morning in preparation for a meeting with likely odds-on favorite Rachel Alexandra in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks.
“What we’re going to do in the Oaks is I’m going to put Be Fair over there by the (track) kitchen; I’m going to put Tweeter right here (at the backstretch gap); and we’re going to tag around and keep barreling so we can hold off that monster,” said the Hall of Fame trainer, who also will saddle Stone Legacy, who apparently has been designated to start for Lukas’ tag team.
Lukas, who has saddled four Oaks winners, said Rachel Alexandra would be a threat to win the Kentucky Derby had her connections opted to run her against the boys.
“She’d be super tough. If you’re a handicapper – and I’m a terrible one – her numbers are plenty good,” said Lukas, who compared Rachel Alexandra with his 1988 Kentucky Derby-winning filly, Winning Colors, on the basis of talent.
FLYING SPUR – Mike Rutherford’s homebred Giant’s Causeway filly Flying Spur galloped over the muddy racetrack Wednesday morning in preparation for her first start in a Grade I race.
Trainer Bill Mott said everything with fine with the filly, a daughter of the terrific racemare and 1994 Kentucky Oaks runner-up Lakeway.
Flying Spur was winless in three starts – two of them on turf – last year and emerged as a capable dirt runner during the winter at Fair Grounds. She enters the Kentucky Oaks off a second-place finish to Rachel Alexandra in the Fair Grounds Oaks (Grade II) on March 14.
Mott said maturity has much to do with her development in 2009.
“It took her a couple of times to break her maiden,” Mott said. “It wasn’t like one just came out running. She’s been one that’s gotten a little better right along.”
Mott said he expected her to make progress.
“I think the horses by her sire tend to get a little better with age,” Mott said. “The Giant’s Causeways tend to improve. I think a lot of people have recognized that. A little like the A.P. Indys, they get a little better as time goes on. That’s how she’s done.”
Mott said Flying Spur likes the muddy conditions she trained over.
“Her best races are on a wet track,” he said. “She broke her maiden in the mud and her best races are in the mud.”
Mott is fine with the forecast of stormy weather this week.
“We’re all for it,” he said. “Rain would be good for us.”
GABBY’S GOLDEN GAL – Trainer Bob Baffert sent Arnold Zetcher’s homebred Gabby’s Golden Gal out to gallop a mile and a half over the muddy track Wednesday.
Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally handled the filly before she was moved to Baffert’s care last fall.
“Ron was really high on her last year and he told me she could really run,” Baffert said. “He was right.”
Gabby’s Golden Gal earned her trip to the Oaks to face Rachel Alexandra, the 3-5 favorite, with a 13-length victory in the Sunland Oaks. Baffert said the race at the eastern New Mexico track was her first test on dirt and going two turns.
“She really just loved the distance,” Baffert said. “She came back and really wasn’t tired. But she’s running against a totally different group of horses here.”
Baffert made the decision to go forward after seeing how she handled the Churchill Down surface. “It’s a tough race,” he said. “You have Rachel Alexandra, who’s just a freak of all freaks. But I liked what I saw here. I brought a bunch of horses here and the ones that didn’t train well I’m not running, like Indian Blessing. I just didn’t like the way she trained here. She just didn’t have any bounce in her step.
“This filly has been training really well here. It’s really hard to get excited knowing that Rachel Alexandra and some other fillies are in there; it’s a pretty competitive race. It’s the Kentucky Oaks. She’s doing well. I don’t think the distance will be a problem for her.”
JUSTWHISTLEDIXIE – Justwhistledixie galloped 1 1/4 miles under Danny Wright before the renovation break at Churchill Downs on Wednesday morning.
“The track was a little bit wet but she seemed to handle it fine. She was a little more relaxed this morning – looked around and saw all the tents and looked at everything,’’ said Neal McLaughlin, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin’s assistant and brother.
McLaughlin expressed satisfaction with Justwhistledixie’s No. 5 post position, just inside Rachel Alexandra, the 3-5 morning-line favorite of eight entered in the Oaks.
“Five of eight is perfect. Rachel Alexandra might wish that she was inside of us, but now she’s going to have do something to clear us, because we’re going to break forward. If she wants the lead, she’s gotta go to get around us and deal with the others inside of us,” McLaughlin added. “An eight-horse field, the only thing we didn’t want was one, two.”
McLaughlin has the utmost respect for Rachel Alexandra, but he’s not ready to concede victory to the favorite, especially with a filly who will be seeking her sixth consecutive victory in the Oaks.
“Rachel Alexandra, the way she trains, she seems very aggressive, and I don’t think there’s any rating her. That’s our best chance – if they go too fast,” he said. “But she could be that special that it doesn’t matter. She could be that type.”
Kiaran McLaughlin is expected to be at Churchill Downs Thursday morning.
NAN – J. Paul Reddam’s Nan galloped a mile and an eighth over a muddy track Wednesday morning before the renovation break under exercise rider Sergio Martin.
Trained by Craig Dollase, Nan will break from post position seven in Friday’s Oaks and be ridden by Corey Nakatani. Nan is listed at 20-1 on the morning line.
Dollase will not be here for the Oaks as his daughter Audrey is having her First Communion. Craig’s sister Aimee, along with their father Wally, is overseeing the filly’s preparations.
“She has been here since she ran in the Ashland (on April 4 at Keeneland),” Aimee said. “She is a nice filly. I wasn’t with her when she was in California with Craig.”
So, what kind of scouting reports has Aimee given her brother?
“They all look like good fillies and then there’s Rachel Alexandra,” Aimee said. “She worked fast the other day; she’s a tremendous filly.”
RACHEL ALEXANDRA – L and M Partners’ Rachel Alexandra walked the shedrow for a second consecutive morning following a half-mile work in :46.40 on Monday.
“She has already had her bath and is back in her stall,” trainer Hal Wiggins said at 6 a.m. as he headed trackside to watch another member of his barn go through its morning paces. “She will gallop tomorrow."
Bred by Dolphus Morrison, who is the “M” in L and M Partners with Michael Lauffer, Rachel Alexandra is the 3-5 morning line favorite for the Kentucky Oaks and will break from post position six under Calvin Borel.
Wiggins was asked if he had done any scouting of the opposition for Friday’s race.
“I saw (Bob) Baffert’s filly (Gabby’s Golden Gal) work on video (1:00.60 on Sunday) and she looked smooth and galloped out strong,” Wiggins said. “I haven’t seen her up close, but she has the same sire (Medaglia d’Oro) as Rachel. I have seen Justwhistledixie gallop and she has won five straight and two graded stakes and not many horses can do that. And (Bill) Mott’s filly (Flying Spur). She was second to us at the Fair Grounds and she is in good hands. He knows what to do with a horse.”